Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Claims Obtaining Indexes of Birth and Death Records will Cost $1.5 Million

show-me_stateThe “Show Me State” apparently doesn’t want to show anything.

Reclaim the Records asked the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services for copies all the state’s birth and death records from 1910 through 2015. The group sought the information under Missouri’s Sunshine Law. An attorney for the department replied that the the birth list would take the agency 23,376 hours to compile and the death list 11,688 hours. At $42.50 an hour, the tab came to an eye-popping $1.5 million.

After some discussion, the attorney reduced the estimate to $1.46 million.

Reclaim the Records then hired their own attorney, Bernie Rhodes, a media-law specialist at the Kansas City law firm Lathrop & Gage. Rhodes asked the Department of Health and Senior Services for more information about the database that stored the birth and death records. Based on the information, he suggested some ideas and even provided the toll-free number for the help desk for software provider the department uses to retrieve records from its database.

After considering Rhodes’ suggestions, the department quoted a new estimate. The attorney for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Service conceded that, in fact, the effort would not require thousands of hours of staff time. The records, the department said, would now cost $5,174, or a 99.7 percent decrease from the original price quote.

Then the story gets even more complicated.

Instead, the Department then notified notified Rhodes that it was refusing to provide the records at any price, citing a section of the Vital Records Act. Rhodes then responded with an 11-page letter telling the department that response violated the Missouri Sunshine Law and that, unless the lists were provided at their actual costs, Reclaim the Records planned to sue. The Department refused to supply the records.

Rhodes then filed a lawsuit last month demanding the department produce the requested records for no more than $500 and to pay his fees.

You can read the original Sunshine Law records requests from February 2016, the letters from the state, the letter from our Reclaim the Records’ attorney from August, and the actual legal papers filed in November, at: https://www.reclaimtherecords.org/records-request/7/.

Many other states publish basic birth and death indexes and make them available online.

You can read all the silly details in an article by Dan Margolies in the kcur.org web site at https://goo.gl/0osbYn.

9 Comments

I haven’t heard about this “Reclaim the Records” group, but if I was a Missouri resident, I certainly wouldn’t want my birth certificate made available to anyone other than me or my immediate family. So I am happy that Missouri is refusing to provide the birth records.

Uncertified copies of death certificates can be obtained from the Secretary of State’s website http://www.sos.mo.gov/records/archives/archivesdb/deathcertificates/ for the years 1910-1965. These have been available for over 5 years.

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Hi Deb. Please note that Reclaim The Records is *NOT* going after copies of actual birth or death certificates! We’re merely asking for a copy of the Missouri birth and death INDEX, which is just a very plain list of the surname and given name and the date. That’s it.

An index like this is already commonly available in most states, but for some reason not Missouri. Actually, most states have a far more comprehensive index; for example, Texas and California and New York City (and others) also add the county name and the sex of the person. But Missouri’s index won’t even have that basic information.

This is the third lawsuit Reclaim The Records has had to file against a government agency in the past two years. We won settlements and records in the other two cases, and we even won attorneys fees last time!

We’re asking for attorneys fees and even fines this time, because this case is just so ridiculous, so blatantly in violation of the state’s Sunshine Law. Missouri has refused to cite a legal reason why this index should not be available. In fact, they regularly sell this very same list! It’s possible that they re refusing our records request because they really don’t want to lose out on the revenue from selling this data, over and over, which has been going on for years.

For more information, please check out our website at https://www.ReclaimTheRecords.org/ or find us on Facebook or on Twitter. Or feel free to e-mail me for more information, I’m happy to answer questions.

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As usual, Reclaim The Records has posted all the documents from this case online, on our website. You can read the original Sunshine Law records requests from February 2016, the letters from the state, the letter from our attorney from August, and the actual legal papers filed in November, all here:
https://www.reclaimtherecords.org/records-request/7/

They’re all listed in the sidebar of that page, as PDF’s. I may be biased, but I think they make for fairly entertaining reading.

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I have never understood why people freak out at the thought of anyone seeing their families birth, death or marriage records. All these events are usually published in the local paper when they happen and all have been considered public records for at least the last several centuries. What are they afraid of?

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I think some people may “freak out” because of this phrase in the article “for copies all the state’s birth and death records from 1910 through 2015. ”

Many of us understand what’s going on but many are still unaware and think actual birth certificates will be online.

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So which is it, the indexes or the actual documents. The headline states that the request is for indexes, but the body of the article states that the birth and death certificates were requested.

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    It’s just a request for basic indices, just the surname, given name, and date. The news article is mixing up the idea of an index with actual certificates. You can read the actual legal paperwork to confirm this.

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I agree that such records should be available publicly. Why the obfuscation by Missouri?

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